ARTICLE WRITTEN BY EDIE LAU, VIN NEWS SERVICE:
Sean Lawrence Gerson, a central figure behind multiple websites that sell illicit veterinary drugs, was arrested in California this week following an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration dating to 2011.
Gerson, 48, is accused of using the internet to sell misbranded veterinary medications without prescriptions. A complaint filed in court lays out one felony and one misdemeanor count stemming from interstate sales of Comfortis, a flea-control medication, and ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic.
The suspect made an initial appearance Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. He was released on $25,000 bail. Arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 19.
Gerson was the subject of a VIN News Service investigation published Sept. 19 that describes his activities in the veterinary-drug sphere and his ability to elude creditors and the law for years.
He had been convicted of a felony in Texas in 2014 in a case involving the sale of the drug clenbuterol. Under the terms of a plea bargain, he was sentenced to two days in jail and fined $3,000. Afterward, he continued selling medications for animals.
An affidavit in the criminal complaint dated Dec. 6 reveals that Jared Davis, a special agent in the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, directed the purchase of clenbuterol from the website www.fleastuff.com in the Texas case. Gerson is the listed registrant for the site.
Davis states that he attended a meeting with Gerson at the local district attorney’s office in Galveston, Texas, on Feb. 24, 2015, to formalize an agreement with Gerson to act as a confidential informant. Davis met again with Gerson on June 2, 2015, in Newport Beach, California, to discuss his role as a confidential informant. At both meetings, Davis states, he told Gerson that he could not sell prescription drugs.
The complaint does not explain on what person, entity or subject Gerson was enlisted to inform. Asked for details, Thom Mrozak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, replied by email, “I cannot comment on his role as an informant beyond what is in the affidavit.”
Elsewhere in the affidavit, other suspected players in the illicit market for pet medications and parasite-control products are said to have informed on Gerson in 2016, after he made the deal with the government.
Davis states that Lam Tran, an indicted defendant in another case involving pet medications, told him in January that Gerson was selling prescription drugs and pet products in counterfeit boxes on the website www.fleaandtickstuff.com without requiring a valid prescription. Davis states that he heard in August from a second defendant in the same case, Chris Martin, that Gerson had a storage facility in Laguna Hills, a city in Orange County, California. (The case involving Tran and Martin and multiple other defendants concerns trafficking in counterfeit labels, documentation and packaging, conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and smuggling. The case is being heard in U.S. District Court in Houston.)
In Laguna Hills, the manager of the storage facility identified by Martin told Davis he had seen what appeared to be pharmaceutical products such as vials and plastic containers inside the unit. Federal investigators later executed a search warrant at the unit and seized a variety of veterinary prescription products, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.
Other sources also alerted Davis to Gerson’s alleged ongoing activities. According to the affidavit, in February, Don Continelli, an investigator in the California Department of Consumer Affairs, notified Davis of a complaint by a private citizen about a website with the address www.mydoghasfleas.xyz. The complainant, identified as J.L., stated that she had ordered the prescription drug Clavamox from the site and received it in an envelope on which the sender was identified as Vaccination Services in Lake Forest, which is near Laguna Hills. Gerson runs Vaccination Services.
In April, Continelli received and passed on a second complaint to Davis regarding the mydoghasfleas site.
In August, Davis directed a fellow FDA criminal-investigations agent to place an order from www.fleaandtickstuff.com. The agent purchased the prescription drugs Comfortis and ciprofloxacin and did not provide prescriptions with the order, according to the complaint. As part of the investigation, the drugs subsequently were analyzed to confirm their contents. Gerson’s fingerprints were found on the Comfortis package and enclosed receipt, the complaint states.
Speaking to the significance of the offenses, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said in a prepared statement: “Uncontrolled distribution of antibiotics and medication pose a threat to public safety, including the fostering of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. The drugs involved in this case allegedly were distributed without the supervision of a licensed professional, which greatly increases the risk of unintended consequences beyond the animals taking the medication.”
A federal public defender, Deborah Gonzalez, was assigned to represent Gerson. She was out of the office on Thursday and Friday and unavailable for comment.